BLM proposes Red Devil clean-up, calls for community meetings

Crews last year built a channel at the old Red Devil mine site. 2015’s work is leading up to water and sediment clean-up. (Photo courtesy BLM)
Crews last year built a channel at the old Red Devil mine site. 2015’s work is leading up to water and sediment clean-up. (Photo courtesy BLM)

The Bureau of Land Management on Tuesday is releasing its proposed plan on how to clean up the hazardous tailings left by the Red Devil Mine.

“There is still mercury in those tailings, and there’s an awful amount of arsenic, and that stuff is tending to leach into the water,” Mike McCrum, BLM Project Manager, said, before adding antimony to the list.

Miners abandoned the once mercury mine, now Superfund site in the early 1970’s. Tailings are the ore remains left at the mine site, which sits on the Kuskokwim River, 1.5 miles upstream from the village of Red Devil.

In 2014 the BLM attempted to contain the tailings, which were eroding into Red Devil Creek and flowing into the Kuskokwim River.

“The tailings are still exposed to the atmosphere and rain and all that kind of stuff, but we’ve taken some action to keep them from spreading off the mine site,” McCrum said.

Those actions include pushing the tailings piles back from the creek edge and covering them in plastic. The agency also created a settling pool in the creek for material that managed to enter the water.

The BLM’s plan will reveal how the agency recommends remediating the area. It’s mailed letters to communities along the middle and lower Kuskokwim, asking them to invite the the agency to present their plan and collect public comment.

McCrum says BLM has been visiting these communities for years about the mine, but this meeting is where the public can have the greatest impact.

“For anyone who lives in the area and has an interest in what we do,” McCrum said, “this is their best opportunity to come and listen to what we have to say about the project and what we think would be the best approach to take to deal with these tailings and tell us what they think.”

That’s because, McCrum says, the report following these meetings—called the record of decision— will seal the deal on the BLM’s cleanup.

“Once we have the record of decision done and signed, we know what we’re doing. There’s no longer any question on which direction we’re going to go,” McCrum said.

Also at the meetings, McCrum says, the agency will present a study on mercury concentration in fish tissue collected throughout the Kuskokwim, mainly in pike and lush.

The proposed remediation spans about 20 pages and McCrum says is written for the general population to understand. It will not be translated into Yup’ik. The community meetings and public comment period will last through April.